Skip to content

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Will Toronto finally make the playoffs?

Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks Getty Images

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.

When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.

It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.

All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So yeah, long time.

Long time.

For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the question at hand:

Will the futility end this season?

If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.

Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.

His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.

That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.

The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.

Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.

“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.

“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”

As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.

James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.

Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.

To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.

The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.

He’s just one of a number of Leafs that need to improve from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns (others, to name a few: Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles.)

But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.

“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.

“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”

Related

For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Ex-NHLer Deveaux has contract terminated after vicious slash

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:24 PM EDT

    Toronto Maple Leafs v Buffalo Sabres Getty Images

    Incident occurred prior to a promotion game in the Swedish league.

  2. Andy or the Hamburglar? Sens mum on starting goalie

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:58 PM EDT

    Comments Off
    Andrew Hammond AP

    And so the dance begins…

  3. Dubnyk, Atkinson, and O’Reilly are NHL’s three stars of the week

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT

    Los Angeles Kings v Minnesota Wild Getty Images

    Has the Wild’s savior goalie done enough to make him a Vezina Trophy finalist?

  4. Playoff watch — what the bubble teams need to do

    Mar 30, 2015, 11:23 AM EDT

    David Pastrnak, Chris Kelly, Torey Krug AP

    Bruins in a much better spot after a successful weekend. (Not so for the Sens.)

  5. Wild wade back into college free agent pool, sign pair

    Mar 30, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT

    Vermont v Boston College Vermont v Boston College

    Vermont goalie Brody Hoffman and Minnesota State blueliner Zach Palmquist come aboard.

  6. With Paquette, Garrison hurt, Lightning recall Witkowski, AHL top-10 scorer Marchessault

    Mar 30, 2015, 9:57 AM EDT

    Luke Witkowski Getty Images

    Tampa Bay is chasing Montreal in the race for the Atlantic Division title.

  7. Ducks face prospect of entering playoffs without clear Game 1 goalie

    Mar 30, 2015, 9:16 AM EDT

    Anaheim Ducks v New York Rangers Getty Images

    John Gibson stood tall versus New Jersey on Sunday.

  8. NHL on NBCSN: Stakes high for Kings, ‘Hawks tonight

    Mar 30, 2015, 8:33 AM EDT

    Corey Crawford, Justin Williams AP

    Both have plenty they still want to accomplish in their final regular season games.

  9. Video: Pens edge Sharks, reclaim second in Metropolitan

    Mar 30, 2015, 12:01 AM EDT

    Pittsburgh Penguins v San Jose Sharks Getty Images

    Perron and Crosby scored in the shootout for the win.

  10. Blackhawks’ Sharp: ‘We knew we had to get two points’

    Mar 29, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT

    Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on in the first period of Game Three of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on June 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
(June 3, 2013 - Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America) Getty Images

    Chicago moves into third in the Central Division.

  11. Video: Brian Engblom takes a puck to the head

    Mar 29, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 9.34.27 PM

    He left the broadcast for stitches, but did return.

  12. Isles’ Tavares: ‘We needed two points, especially at home’

    Mar 29, 2015, 10:02 PM EDT

    John Tavares Getty Images

    New York snapped a seven-game home losing streak.

  13. Flames jump back into third in Pacific, beat Preds

    Mar 29, 2015, 7:55 PM EDT

    Michael Ferland Michael Ferland

    Michael Ferland’s first NHL goal was the winner.

Featured video

Hammond leads Ottawa's turnaround
Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. E. Malkin (2098)
  2. H. Lundqvist (2042)
  3. P. Datsyuk (1907)
  4. D. Dubnyk (1845)
  5. A. Hammond (1724)